“Tamper with the deepest mysteries — the source of life, the essence of self — only if prepared for consequences of the most extreme and dangerous kind.”
Tony sat alone in his study, his late uncle’s favourite saying reverberating through his ears. He had failed. He had tried to venture into an area he knew was strictly forbidden, overcome by his arrogance and the blind faith he had placed in his intellectual prowess. This arrogance had almost brought about his downfall, and if his uncle’s friend Nicholas Flamel hadn’t intervened, the nails would have been driven into his coffin instead.
He got up and examined himself in the mirror. The scars on his skull would fade; time would heal them and the residue would be hidden beneath a mass of hair. The scars on his soul, however, were another matter altogether. He felt incomplete, powerless. The Elixir had bought him the remainder of his human lifetime, but it hadn’t repaired the gaping hole that lay within. The fragment that had gone missing when he tried to rip it apart in his quest for immortality.
“Worrying about me again, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. quipped from his central computing system.
“We need to act fast. We don’t know much about them. They are able to utilise power beyond our wildest imagination, summon objects, torture and kill, all with a sweep of their wands. Our military is no match for that kind of power. We cannot do anything in case of an attack. They have dragons, Howard.”
Howard Stark sighed in despair. His project was a success and he hated every bit of it. Howard Stark was a part of a covert military operation that had been monitoring different groups of people who had been singled out because of their erratic behaviour and something odd Tony had noticed when he was young.
“Look daddy, that man just vanished!” Tony had excitedly exclaimed one fine morning, when he was taken for ice cream in the park. Howard had been looking bemusedly at the odd fellow who was wearing a violently violet cloak, deep in the heat of summer. His smile soon vanished along with the man’s disappearance.
Howard was at the height of his career then; the military was assigning all its contracts to Stark Industries, his failed expedition with Captain America was long forgotten and he had discovered something special that he would leave as legacy for his son to continue work upon. Life was going well for him. The only worry nagging him was his curiosity at that man’s ability to vanish into thin air. Curiosity was what made Howard Stark a technological genius. It was the basis for why he pursued his career; he absolutely loved pursuing projects that made him delve deeper into subjects that made him curious.
He had seen another man disappear in the blink of an eye. And he was determined to know how. Was it some new technology that had hitherto been untapped into? Another company sending test recruits in the field? If so, Howard Stark was determined to understand it and more importantly, make it his own. He had contacted his friend and source in the government; together they would solve the mystery. He had obtained all the necessary sanctions and was allowed to go ahead with his research.
Eleven years had passed. Howard Stark sat in his study, exhausted beyond measure, nuzzling a bottle of Firewhiskey. His project was a success. Eleven years of lying to his family. He had found out the secret of that man’s disappearance. Eleven years of alcoholism. He had infiltrated their ranks. Eleven years of living a lie. He would kill them all if it meant protecting his family.
He felt a draught on his neck and looked up. His window was open, although he didn’t remember opening it. Probably the wind, he thought as he felt goosebumps popping on his neck. He picked up the telephone again.
“I know they have dragons, Pete. That bloody Welsh Green was a nasty piece of work. And I have heard rumours of something worse. Something they only speak of in whispers. Diggle accidentally let it slip once. Dementor, he called it.”
“Look Howard, we need to know if they are dangerous to our kind. They aren’t ordinary humans. What are we to do in case they decide to attack? You need to go into this further. You need to learn all their secrets. Think about Tony and Maria if you can’t think about the rest of humanity. What would happen to your family if these… these muggles got hold of them?”
“We are the muggles Pete, not them. That’s what they call us. Fine, I’ll leave tonight. I’ll leave Tony with you and take Maria to her parents’. We need to keep them safe and separated. It would be too easy, otherwise, to find them. I’ll call you when I reach the Leaky Cauldron.”
“I still don’t understand how you can see it and I can’t. Aren’t muggles supposed to not be able to see it?”
“It’s a mystery to me as well, my friend. Ah well, I suppose I had better leave. Don’t talk about this with anybody else yet, we need to present concrete proof that they exist.”
“My lips are sealed. Farewell my friend. Until we meet again.”
Howard and Maria Stark died that night in a car crash, leaving their seventeen year old son Tony, an orphan and in charge of the biggest technological empire in the United States.
Tony Stark had taken the death of his parents very seriously. A promising career in debauchery and technological innovation had been rudely cut short and Tony, instead of wallowing in despair, decided to take charge of Stark Industries. His father’s favourite secretary Virginia Potts soon became his own; he quickly realised her that her efficiency and experience would be able guides. He began to spend more time in developing weapons and emerging technology and left the day-to-day administration in her capable hands.
She quickly began to rise from the position of a mere secretary to virtually running the company, actively participating in negotiations and helping Tony make decisions. After a particularly gruelling round of negotiations with a rival company about Hammer Industries, a promising start-up, Tony could not help but admire her business acumen. The manner in which she had fiercely defended Stark Industries had caught his attention. Her skills were far beyond just those of any ordinary administrator, yet she displayed utter loyalty to the Stark family. Her faith in Tony’s ability as a technological genius was almost child-like; she supported all his plans and defended them when no support was forthcoming from the others.
“Virginia… err Ms. Potts, may I have a word?” Tony blurted. She agreed immediately, slightly surprised at his sudden informality. As much of a ladies man as he was, Tony Stark had always behaved in a dignified manner with her.
“Why did you defend my plans so determinedly? You know it’s very advanced technology and still at the prototype stage. We can’t afford to lose any more investors, especially after the… incident.”
“Mr. Stark, you know I believe in you, as I did your father.”
“Yeah, but it’s ridiculous. What if it fails? What then? What will we tell them?”
“It won’t fail.”
“How can you possibly know that? We only managed to gain partial control over Hammer Industries because Justin Hammer believes in what you told him. It’ll take us a miracle to pull this off.”
“Mr. Stark, I believe that miracles can happen, if you contemplate putting all your energies into one goal.”
“Ms. Potts, I’ll have you know that believing in magic and miracles will not get you anywhere in this company. Let me tell you right here, the entity you refer to as magic simply does not exist. There is only science, and the miracles we perform, are entirely based upon its principles.”
Virginia Potts smiled. The naivety of youth. He would understand one day.
“Mr. Stark, you and I are then completely in agreement.”
“I’m surprised MIT didn’t teach you that any technology, not matter how primitive, is magic to those who don’t understand it.”
“Hah, Ms. Potts in that case, my technology is indistinguishable from magic as I don’t believe there is anybody else on this planet who can perfect this technology in the manner that I can.”
“And therein lies your strength Tony, as it lay in your father.”
Tony Stark and Virginia Potts turned around.
A woman stood in the doorway, framed by the light of the dying sun. She was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours. What attracted their attention most were the eyes; a long, wide scar ran from her left eye to her upper lip, turning it upwards, forcing her lower lip into a cruel pout. There was sadness in those eyes, but also a burning anger that didn’t seem to subside, no matter her efforts to vanquish it.
“I’m sorry, who are you, again?” Tony Stark said belligerently.
“So you don’t remember me, Tony? Don’t you remember the man in the park, the day we met in Central Park?”
Tony Stark gasped. It couldn’t be. Memories began to flash in his head. A young girl, a little older than he, laughing and playing in Central Park with her sister. He had been very sad that day as Jarvis, his pet fish had died. The girls had come towards him and invited him to play. It was going well until a large brown owl appeared out of nowhere and dropped a letter on her head. “Lily, be careful!” the girl had shouted. The girl called Lily was still dazed at the shock of a sudden appearance of an owl in broad daylight, one that had dropped a funny brown letter, with her name emblazoned in green ink on the front. A man in a violet cloak nearby had chuckled and helped her up to her feet. He had then walked to a clump of trees, smiled at the girl and vanished. Tony had excitedly motioned to his father, whose face had hardened. The family with the two girls exited the park, never to be seen there again.
“Petunia Evans.” Tony mumbled, still in shock.
“Ms. Potts, I believe you have some unfinished business with Hammer Industries. They’re looking for you on level 28.” Petunia said.
“Oh… Alright, thank you. Mr. Stark, you’re scheduled for the next round of negotiations in an hour.”
“I will see you there. Kindly close the door when you leave.”
Tony Stark’s mind was buzzing like a hornets’ nest. This woman. She was only a few years elder to him so why did she look decades older? Why was she here now? How did she find him? And what had happened to her face?
“You’re probably wondering why I am here.”
“You got that right.”
“I need your help. We need your help.”
“Who’s we? And what help?”
“Your father and I.”
Tony Stark froze and looked at the smiling woman, who was clearly enjoying the situation.
“What did you say?”
“Tony, I need you to carry on with your father’s work. His mission is still unfinished and you have been deemed worthy to take his place.”
“The one he was on the night he died.”
Tony Stark’s eyes narrowed. “What do you know about my parents’ death?”
“Tony, I think you should let me explain everything to you, after which you’ll know the truth. For five years, it has been kept from you, now you deserve to know.”
“Tell me, tell me how they died. It was an accident, right?” There was a desperate plea in Tony’s voice.
“Do you know where they were going that night?”
“No, they dropped me off at Uncle Adalbert’s house, telling me they’ll be back for me soon. And then the next day… I heard on the news…”
“Tony… I don’t know how else to put it but their death was no accident. The car crash was orchestrated. In reality, Maria and Howard Stark were murdered in cold blood.”